By Mike “Duke” Venturino, GUNS Magazine
In American minds, one rifle stands head and shoulders above all others used in World War II. That is the US Rifle, Caliber .30 M1, most commonly referred to as the Garand, after its primary designer John C. Garand.
I’ve been of that mind too since about age 13. What I didn’t know until I bought a few Garands, and, perhaps more importantly, a few books about them, is that most of the US rifle, Caliber .30, M1s available today are not as they were issued to GIs and Marines in WWII.
Here are a couple of examples. Only the government owned Springfield Armory and Winchester Repeating Arms manufactured Garands in the WWII years. Those made by Harrington & Richardson and International Harvester were products of the 1950s. Springfield Armory also returned to Garand production in the 1950s.
Almost all M1 Garands that saw combat in WWII wore a sight which collectors now call the “locking bar” type. It came into use late in 1942. Prior to that sight’s adoption, M1s carried rear sights adjusted by means of a spanner wrench. Towards the end of WWII an improved rear sight designated T105E1 was developed but according to Bruce N. Canfield’s book Complete Guide To The M1 Garand And M1 Carbine, it is unlikely if any Garands issued during WWII wore them. However, after the war, M1s turned in for refurbishing were retro-fitted with T105E1 sights. Of course all three of those rear sights were aperture types.
You might be excused for logically thinking all WWII Garands by Springfield Armory and Winchester would be identical. They were not, albeit all their parts were interchangeable. The government manufacturer began M1 production with forged triggerguards but by early 1944 began making stamped ones. Throughout production, Winchester forged triggerguards for their M1s.
Even details as small as the protective ears of the front sight differed between WWII manufacturers. Winchester’s sight ears are much more flared than those made by Springfield Armory. Also worthy of mention is Winchester barrels are not dated but do have a “WP” stamped on them (for “Winchester Proof”). Springfield Armory barrels are stamped with the month and year of production.
When M1 Garands were returned to one or another of the many government arsenals located around the country, no effort was made to preserve them in their original state for future collectors. Good parts were retained and faulty or obsolete parts were junked. So rebuilt M1s can be found with Springfield Armory receivers and Winchester barrels and vice-versa. The same is true of virtually all their parts, including those made in the 1950s.
Duke’s two WWII Garands include a Winchester (left) with sling and
a Springfield Armory one so new he hasn’t put a sling on it yet.
The M1 Garand did not spring into troops’ hands as a fully thought-out battle rifle. In fact, it took years of hard work on the part of John C. Garand to bring the M1 into fruition. More than once Mr. Garand thought he had the design of his new semi-auto military rifle perfected when he was told to go back to the drawing boards and change it significantly. For instance, his rifle was initially built for the then-serving American .30-caliber cartridge. (We all know it as .30-06.) Then Garand had to remodel it to take a smaller experimental .276 round. When that was done he was next instructed by no less a personage than the US Army’s Chief of Staff, Douglas MacArthur, to again make it suitable for the .30-06 round.
According to Canfield’s book, John C. Garand started employment on a temporary basis at the government-owned Springfield Armory in 1919 and was made a permanent employee in 1921. The M1 Garand rifle was not adopted by the US Army until 1936. Mr. Garand wasn’t a slow worker; the bureaucrats were just wishy-washy.
Even then the M1 was not the same rifle folks today are familiar with. Between 1936 and 1940, Garands were a version called by collectors today as “the gas trap model.” Barrel length was 22 inches and attached to the front was a part that trapped gas from the cartridge’s firing. That gas was then funneled back for pushing the operating rod. In March 1940, the design was changed so that a port drilled into the bottom of the barrel siphoned gas for operation. At this time barrel length was made 24 inches.
By the time the gas port method of function arrived, only about 50,000 M1s had been produced. Instead of a total recall of those rifles for modernization, they were only converted to the new system upon showing up at government arsenals for other work. Regardless, gas-trap Garands are extremely rare, mostly seen only in museums.
Once M1s all became the gas-port type, their physical characteristics remained the same until the end of production, circa 1957. That is they had 24-inch barrels, were of 8-round capacity, metal finish was always one shade or another of Parkerization and sights were post front with rear fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. Stocks were mostly walnut, although some were made of other hardwoods later. Weight with sling was realistically about 10 pounds.
Famously, General George Patton is often quoted as saying “The M1 is the best battle implement ever devised.” In conversations with an aged veteran of WWII, I heard this said, “Yeah, he might have said that but what are the chances he ever packed one around day in and day out for months? They were heavy!”
The M1 Garand (top) was adopted in 1936 with the idea of replacing the
bolt-action Model 1903 (bottom). However all American GI and Marine
combat infantry riflemen did not receive M1s until about mid-1943.
The 8-round en-bloc loader, commonly called a clip, also took some criticism during WWII (and the Korean War) because the M1’s magazine can’t be topped off after a few rounds have been fired. To get an M1 fully loaded in that case, the en-bloc loader with remaining rounds must be popped out and a full one put in. A fellow who had done much metal detecting in European WWII battlegrounds told me en-bloc loaders along with .30 caliber cartridges often litter the bottoms of old foxholes. Hindsight tells us that John C. Garand’s famous M1 rifle could possibly have been better if designed to take say a 10-round detachable box magazine. (The M14, which is an improved M1, was built to take 20-round box magazines.) Regardless, the M1 was there in production when desperately needed by American troops for WWII.
Next, replacing the Springfield 03